Workplace discrimination: women and refugees most seriously disadvantaged

30 October 2015 -


Prime Minister David Cameron has announced changes to use name-blind CVs in graduate job applications in an effort to reduce discrimination.

But with gender inequality an enduring problem and refugees still pouring into Western Europe, does more need to be done to stop discrimination in the workplace?

Matt Scott

A number of high profile organisations, including the Civil Service and the NHS, have pledged to keep job applications anonymous in a bid to improve fairness in the graduate job market.

The move was announced following a roundtable discussion hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street this week.

"I said in my conference speech that I want us to end discrimination and finish the fight for real equality in our country today," Cameron said. "Today we are delivering on that commitment and extending opportunity to all.

"If you've got the grades, the skills and the determination, this government will ensure that you can succeed."

It’s a big promise from the Prime Minister, and with 1.8 million people employed by the organisations supporting the initiative, which include the Civil Service, Teach First, the BBC, NHS and local government as well as financial institutions such as HSBC, Virgin Money, KPMG and Deloitte, the new approach to graduate recruitment could – if properly conceived and implemented – have a positive effect for many seeking employment.

But does this move really address the wider issues of inequality in the job market?

Discrimination and inequality: refugees

The refugee crisis, as well as posing a huge political challenge for European leaders, has put discrimination and equality right at the top of the employment agenda.

The Financial Times recently revealed the plights of many skilled workers fleeing conflicts who have been unable to find work at the level they are qualified for. Often this is because employers don’t recognise overseas qualifications and experience; sometimes it’s down to a lack of understanding of the recruitment process from those seeking work.

Kidreab Kidane is an accountant and auditor originally from Eritrea with 20 years senior experience, including a five-year spell at the British Council during which he completed a UK Masters Degree in Audit.

Upon moving to the UK in 2009, Kidane struggled to find work and was taken aback by the lack of support.

“I was very traumatised, being forced to claim asylum because of persecution and here without my family,” he said. “Finding a place to live, trying to reunite my family and the stress of trying to find a job with no help in a strange country is not easy. I had no assistance, in fact I had constant pressure from Jobcentre Plus to find any job – with no UK work references and not knowing about the way that UK employers recruit.

“I wasn’t getting any interviews and didn't really know where to start. I was expected to restart my career as soon as possible with no integration support from any statutory bodies. Employers don’t know what refugee status is, and don’t value my overseas experience.”

Kibane is now working as an auditor for Credit Unit after receiving help from Transitions, a London-based social enterprise Community Interest Company aimed at promoting diversity in the workplace and helping refugees find employment.

The organisation provided Kibane with one-to-one careers advice and helped broker an internship with an auditor, which eventually led to a permanent position.

Kibane has since spoken at conferences about his experience as a refugee looking for professional work in the UK. “That gave me confidence and a voice in the market,” he said.

Another company taking action to help refugees struggling to find employment is management consultancy firm Oliver Wyman. The company has pledged to hire professionals arriving from the Middle East for its European offices.

Announcing the promise in September, group president and chief executive Scott McDonald said: “We are watching thousands flee violent conflict and danger in search of a future for their families. While we understand the situation and solutions are complex, we want to do our part and plan, where we can, to recruit qualified candidates from the refugee populations in Europe into Oliver Wyman.

“We are only at the early stages of what will require long-term solutions and interventions to address the core issues, but as we wait for these solutions, we and our colleagues around the world want to act now.”

Discrimination and inequality: gender

Workplace inequality is also a concern for workers more established in Britain’s workforce.


Research from CMI and XpertHR found that, on average, women earn 22% less than their male counterparts, climbing to a gap of 38% for women over the age of 60 (see left).

Furthermore, the pay gap also increased with seniority, with the difference in pay reaching £14,943 for senior or director-level staff.

The research also found that, not only are older women earning less, but there are also fewer of them in executive positions.

Women comprise 67% of the workforce in entry-level roles, and continue to outnumber men in junior management roles, but female representation drops to 43% for senior management. Even more worryingly, just 29% of director-level posts are held by women.

CMI chief executive Ann Francke said it was now time for businesses to address this problem and hire more women in executive level roles.

“While some progress is being made, it’s clear from our research that Lord Davies is right to target the executive pipeline,” she said. “Having more women in senior executive roles will pave the way for others and ensure they’re paid the same as their male colleagues at every stage of their careers.”

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